If you regularly struggle with insomnia, make sure you’re aware of these easy fixes. And if you’re trying to sleep in a loud environment, white noise might help you nod off more easily. A mixture of all sound frequencies at once, at the same level of intensity, white noise does a good job of masking other noises that can disrupt your sleep. Like a whirring fan or the hum of an air conditioner, white noise provides an even, steady stream of sound. In a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers at Brown University Medical School reported patients in a hospital intensive care unit awakened less frequently during the night with white noise present, because it decreased the difference between background noise and the “peak” noises that punctuated the hospital’s noise environment.
It’s no surprise that ocean waves are a popular choice for soothing sleep sounds. For many people, the rhythmic crashing of water onto sand and rock can be meditative—and meditation carries some surprising health benefits. By creating a mental state of relaxation, contentment, and gentle focus, the wave sound can be deeply relaxing. In an interview with LiveScience, Dr. Orfeu Buxton, an associate professor of behavioural health at Penn State University, described how the sound of the ocean can promote sleep. “These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people, “Buxton explained. “It’s like they’re saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.’”
Sound machines and apps for sleep are filled with noises of the woods and the wilderness—and there’s some interesting science behind what nature can do for the mind. Even newer research suggests why the sounds of nature are so deeply soothing. Scientists at Britain’s University of Sussex had participants listen to recordings of nature sounds and artificial sounds, while measuring their brain and nervous system activity. They found nature sounds led to more outward-focused attention in the brain, rather than inward-focused. Inward-focused attention is associated with states of anxiety, stress, and depression—all of which can be antithetical to sleep. Researchers also found participants’ nervous systems moved toward a more relaxed, “rest and digest” mode of activity after listening to recordings from nature. Employing the sounds of the outdoors to help you sleep is one easy way to connect with nature if you’re living in an environment with a lot of artificial noise. Can’t open the window and hear crickets chirp you to sleep on a summer night? Bring the crickets to you.
Music can lower blood pressure and heart rate, soothe anxiety, and quiet a racing mind—all changes that can benefit sleep. Research by scientists at Hungary’s Semmelweis University found that listening to classical music at bedtime helped improve sleep quality in young adults with sleep problems. Does listening to your favorite music give you goosebumps? Science can explain why—that’s your brain lighting up with arousal, but it’s not what you’re looking for at bedtime. That Sia song that nursed you through your break up isn’t likely to help you wind down—and neither is the Rihanna you’re listening to on the treadmill. The National Sleep Foundation recommends choosing soothing songs with slow rhythms, between 60 to 80 beats per minute.
Remember falling asleep as a kid to the sound of adult voices floating in from another room? Or the comfort of being read to while you drift off? For some people, the sounds of human voices remain a soothing sleep sound throughout their lives. It isn’t primarily the content of what’s being said, but the tone and cadence of the voices, that’s relaxing. Guided relaxation and meditation programs designed for sleep can provide soothing voices to help lull you to slumber, and some apps that offer sleep sounds also have voice options.